Monday, August 29, 2011

How Hank Fitz and I Fell Down the Rabbit Hole Into Filoli Gardens

You know how every once a millennium you get to experience the odd serendipity? Well, that’s what just happened to Hank Fitz (my gay Pretend Husband) and me on our way to a high-end estate sale.

Hank Fitz loves to go to estate sales and since neither of us can afford real vacations, we pretend the estate sale IS the vacation, which sort of works because, after all, we get to fly (okay, drive) to a new country (all right, neighborhood) filled with new people (well, we don’t know them) and new things to see (salt and pepper shaker sets from around 1940). And, if Hank Fitz finds a tie that he likes, we even bring back souvenirs.

So this time, while trying to reach some crazy address in the high curvy hills of San Mateo, we got totally lost and found ourselves driving down the kind of beautiful road that makes you think you're in Italy.  And on this road I saw a sign that said Filoli Gardens. Which, because of the vowels, really convinced me we were in Italy.

That sign reminded me that Filoli Gardens was one of those places I’d always sort of wanted to go to but hadn’t because, as a lifelong paranoid, I’d assumed it would be Too Hard and Expensive, plus, like all well-known destinations, Relentlessly Crowded and Sweaty and Hot.

But when Hank Fitz told me he’d always meant to visit it too, I turned into a hippie—or maybe a Christian—and said god or karma must have brought us here (on a sunny day that was warm but Not Hot!) for A Reason. To which he replied that it was his inability to followYahoo directions that had brought us here, but he drove us through the gate anyway.

If you’ve been to Filoli, you know what we experienced. If you haven’t, let me just say that the entrance fee was $15 ($12 for seniors, not that I am one), which is what a glass of wine costs you now, and the parking lot cost nothing at all and was big enough that we could find a space quickly and not have to have nervous breakdowns.

Another good thing is that no one was mean to us. Indeed, the docents were so lovely and kind that both Hank Fitz and I wanted to take a few home to be our new mothers. Yet another good thing is that on this particular day (Saturday and yet for some reason not crowded) most of the other visitors seemed to be either Older or Fatter than us, which made us feel vaguely young and attractive. Granted, there were too many couples—okay, only couples—but since Hank Fitz and I sort of LOOK like a couple, we got to forgo the twin Envy-ectomies.

There’s no point in my trying to describe indescribable gardens (you can see them yourself on so let me just say they made me remember the Power of Beauty, how it can just overwhelm you and then make you weep as you sit with Hank Fitz on a nice wooden bench because your mother--who once, to your ten-year old puzzlement and despair, planted plastic pansies in your own back yard garden--never got to go to Filoli and now, being dead, most surely would not.

There’s a house to see too, which Hank Fitz and I strolled through but did not really care about because we’d both been spoiled by the completely crazed mansions in Newport, Rhode Island, which, if you've seen them, you know what I mean. But I’d recommend you walk through it anyway as a prelude to a two to three hour walk through the gardens, after which you will feel so Soothed and Relaxed and Inspired you will need to get something to eat.

And yes, even the café was sublime. Hank Fitz and I sat at a table outside and wondered aloud how we’d gotten so lucky and if we’d ever get so lucky again.

But then I realized we didn’t need luck. Filoli is about a ten second drive from the city of Boringame, where I am currently living (until the house I live under gets sold to a Horrid Rich Couple who will promptly evict me), so as long as we each have $15 to spend, we can visit Filoli whenever we want.
Which for me (I can't speak for Hank Fitz) might well be every weekend from now unto death.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Dinner Party From Hell: More TOTALLY RETRO Fiction for Foodies!

I STILL REMEMBER the morning I decided never to give another dinner party. It was foggy and I was hung over.

"Hal," I said. "Last night was the last time. We either decline all dinner invitations from now on, or accept them and reciprocate by taking our friends out to restaurants."

"Won't that be expensive?" he asked.

"Yes. But it's better than my going insane."

"How can cooking dinner for six make you insane?"

"I don't know," I lied. "It just does."

What Hal couldn't understand was that cooking was the least odious of the dinner-party chores. First there was the mixing and matching of guests, the careful separation of the shrilly ambitious from the quietly unassuming. Then there was the perusal of cookbooks, the search for the elusive recipe that required no more than 10 seconds preparation. This search always backfired with seduction of the most wrongheaded sort; I'd find myself stuffing six game hens with a far-too-expensive substance, then injuring myself with trussing needles, then dealing with six inevitably dried-out breasts.

Add to this the cleaning of bathrooms, the spinning of lettuce leaves, the assemblage of candles, flowers, appetizers, wines, desserts and coffees, and the last-minute emptying of the medicine cabinet in case Marilyn's husband still had that little problem, and there lay the roots of my looming insanity.

No, it wasn't cooking for six that shook me, because my paranoia always made me cook for 12. What if someone hated leg of lamb? What if someone liked it so much they had to eat four servings? What if I set fire to it? There had to be plenitude, alternatives, and excess. There had to be. To shortchange or disappoint an invited guest was unthinkable.

Hal was too male to appreciate this. The culture, after all, hadn't tyrannized him into feeling guilty for supposed domestic failures. He did, however, suffer vestigial guilt over failures of the wallet, which proved he was at least as retro as I.

"I don't think we can afford to reciprocate in restaurants," Hal said.

"Pizzas, Hal."

"We could make pizza at home for a third the cost!"

"Have you ever made a pizza, Hal?"

"How hard can it be?"

"Hard enough that everyone either goes out for it or calls out for it."

"Then I'll just make a big pot of spaghetti." Hal's eyes lit up like two blazing dinner candles."I'll do the dinner. I'll take responsibility."

I remember letting this notion sink through the hangover fog that shrouded my brain. This, I was thinking, is 1992 - not 1962. And Hal is an adult. And he is not from the generation of men that thinks it's perfectly acceptable to make spaghetti with sauce that comes from an envelope. He will understand that people require garlic bread, and that it can't be made with garlic powder.

"OK," I consented, against my better judgment. "Just don't invite anyone I like very much."

He invited the shrilly ambitious couple and two depressed singles who'd been set up three years previously to no romantic avail. "Go to an afternoon movie or something," he advised me. "I don't want you standing around telling me what to do."

"You mean like reminding you to make a salad and dessert?" I said brightly.

He just laughed. "Norman's bringing the salad," he said. "And Patty's bringing dessert."

"You're making the single people contribute?"

"They offered."

"So what? A potluck can't count as reciprocity."

"Sure it can. I'm doing the real work."

"I'd better make a vinaigrette before I go."


"Norman will bring bottled dressing. Low-calorie. With fake bacon bits floating in it. I know Norman. This is the kind of thing he does."

Hal almost literally threw me out the door, yelling after me that Norman was a splendid person for whom no woman was good enough.

When I returned from my double feature, the shrilly ambitious couple were seated in our living room lecturing Norman and Patty on what they'd bought that week while Hal poured scotch into smudged wine glasses.

"All right, I forgot about ice cubes," he muttered under his breath as I took off my coat.

"Hal's the official host tonight!" I announced, trying to clear myself of all potential dinner crimes, and taking a seat next to Patty. She gave me a defeated smile and gazed at the empty coffee table. No crackers, no cheese, nary a salted nut.

"There's no sense ruining our appetites," Hal said.

"No sense whatsoever," I agreed. "Besides, we'll need room for Patty's dessert, won't we?"

Patty's face fell into further defeat. "Oh shit," she said.

I told Hal in the kitchen that all human beings were undependable, which was why a good host always had a backup salad, backup dessert, backup everything. "I hate your uptightness," he said, leaning against a Pyrex bowl full of Norman's carrot-and-raisin salad.

"Not as much as you're going to hate that carrot business," I said, pouring myself more tepid scotch. "How come I don't smell spaghetti sauce?"

He pointed to an envelope graced with the buoyant grin of Chef Boyardee. "I haven't opened it yet," he said.

I didn't care that Hal served the worst meal anyone had since college. I didn't care that he ran out of wine or had assumed one box of spaghetti was plenty for six or that when Norman asked for bread Hal had to drag out half a bag of cold whole-wheat English muffins. What I cared about was that Hal was in no way humiliated. It wasn't just bravado, either. He said he would take responsibility for feeding his guests, but in reality he felt not one shred of responsibility for their well-being. He felt no shame, not one iota. It was brazen, bizarre, male beyond measure. He should have been wearing a codpiece.

"I don't get it," I said later. It was 8:30 p.m. Everyone was gone. "You're not even embarrassed."

"Why should I be? Everyone got fed."

"Everyone did not. They're probably out now, wolfing down cheeseburgers and cursing my existence."

"Why would they be cursing you? I made the dinner."

"Chef Boyardee made the dinner. And I'm the woman who let it happen."


"The woman always gets blamed for hospitality deficiencies! Everyone pretends they've advanced into occasionally blaming the man, but trust me - it never happens!"

"Gosh, you're uptight."

"Stop using that word around me. How much did you spend on groceries?"

"Three bucks. Home entertaining is really the way to go."

"Yeah. Especially when you don't buy anything."

The only good aspect of Hal's dinner was that we never heard from the shrilly ambitious couple again, and Norman and Patty told so many people what a horrid thing I'd allowed my husband to do that we stopped getting invited anywhere. This meant we didn't owe anybody anything, hospitality-wise.

"Except for the Lees and the Howards," said Hal. "I'll just make a big pot of spaghetti."

I knew I couldn't go through it again. I didn't have the strength, the wherewithal to distance myself from Hal's heinous acts. Even if our guests were progressive enough to hate Hal instead of me when he served them nothing for dessert, was I progressive enough to join them? My calendar told me it was 1992, but I had to admit it was still 1962 in the more damaged parts of my brain.

"Pizzas, Hal. Out."

"You're chicken," he accused.

Chicken, but relaxed. I didn't feel obliged to spin lettuce leaves, empty medicine cabinets, or cringe when food appeared. Even if I blamed myself for Hal's domestic deficiencies, I wasn't crazy enough to blame myself for a restaurant's. And the restaurant, as it turned out, was nearly blameless: The pizzas dripped Gorgonzola, the salads were well dressed, and Hal even found a decent merlot.

The problem came when Hal realized he'd forgotten his credit card and had 25 cents in cash. He stared at me piercingly; I reached for my credit card. Alas, this pizza place didn't take credit cards, and the Lees and the Howards fought each other for the check.

Hal's color was amazing. He turned redder than the merlot, redder than I would have if faced with 12 exploded game hens. He stammered, he stumbled, his codpiece fell off.

"Why be embarrassed?" I asked him on the way home. "Everyone got fed."

I refrained from further comment purely because of the expression on Hal's red face. It wasn't a look of insanity exactly. It was more like, well, you know, uptight.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Foodie Fiction! (As Published in 1886--Oops, I Mean 1986, Which, Never mind Math, Is Equally Distant)

     by the Eons Younger Ms. Gonick 
(If you've seen this before, please forgive and So Be It.) 

I WON`T SAY THAT BEN HAMILTON`S BEing a restaurant critic was the only reason I dated him. It was, however, the main one. And why not? They say you can fall for a rich man as easily as for a poor one; I say you can be as attracted to a man who has endless access to fabulous free meals as to one who frequents Burger King.

Opportunistic? Yes. Did I use Ben so I could go to the finest restaurants without making reservations six weeks in advance? Absolutely. Call me what you will -- like Edith Piaf, I regret nothing. If Ben suffered because of me, it was certainly no more than when his lamb was overcooked.

And I myself suffered a far more serious upheaval: I lost my lifelong love of fine food. And how am I convinced of this loss? Because I have just polished off a big bowl full of Kraft`s macaroni and cheese. Because, far worse, I enjoyed it.

I HAD READ Ben`s newspaper column for years, just as every restaurant-crazed resident of our city has. He has the power to make or break a new eatery with the stroke of a pen. I devoured his reports of festive evenings with feasting friends. Even more seductive than his accounts of duck breast with green peppercorns were the intimations of conviviality: ``The five of us agreed that no appetizer on the menu could match the leek pate with tarragon sauce.`` ``Although more than sated, our group shared a pear and ginger tart and a chocolate orange souffle, unanimously deeming the tart the superior dessert.``

I lusted for such pastimes as this: to luxuriate with my knowledgeable peers in this cocoon of fine food and wine, to share tender judgments, to evaluate, to discuss nothing more controversial than pear versus chocolate. ``I belong at that table,`` I`d reflect as I read.

I never dreamed I`d be so lucky as to meet Mr. Haute Cuisine, just as I have never dreamed of meeting Elvis Presley or Mick Jagger. He came to me, as miracles do, unannounced. At an elaborate cocktail party, I stood alone beside a gleaming chafing dish, and he walked up and introduced himself.

Did I panic and wish I had just freshened my lipstick? Did I wish I hadn`t just put a run in my stocking? No. I wished more than anything in the world that I was not in the middle of consuming a cold prawn dipped in mustard vinaigrette. I remembered him railing in his latest column against the omnipresence of the prawn: ``Are these crustaceans not the most ubiquitous of all? Can hosts not think of more imaginative fare?``

``Forgive me,`` I said quickly, nervously depositing the uneaten half of my prawn into a pitcher of aioli sauce. ``Oh God.`` I retrieved it clumsily and wrapped its nasty pinkness in a napkin.

``There is nothing to forgive,`` he said generously. He was 4 inches shorter than I, with blazing brown eyes. ``Try this,`` he said, slipping a scallop adorned with fresh cilantro into my mouth. ``Better?``

``Thank you,`` I murmured, as he fed me another one. Twice blessed. ``I read your column every week,`` I blurted.

``That`s very good of you,`` he said. ``And may I say that your dress is quite lovely? It is precisely the color of an eggplant.``

Imagine Priscilla Presley`s joy when the King of Rock `n` Roll chose her, from all the corners of the universe, to be his bride. Imagine mine.

``Do you fear innards?`` Ben then asked.

I didn`t, but if I had, I`d have lied. I prayed this was a prelude to something grand.

It was. ``I am sampling the sweetbreads in urchin sauce at Ernesto`s this Thursday. Would you care to join my party?``

``I adore thymus glands. I would be honored.``

OUR PARTY WAS comprised of three well-heeled couples. I was indisputably Ben Hamilton`s date. Oh, the unspeakable pleasure of being on a celebrity`s arm, even if the arm was attached to a shoulder that barely grazed my bicep.

The six of us unfolded our napkins as Ben uncapped his pen and ordered the entire meal. Appetizers covered the table.

``Let me squeeze just a drop of fresh lime onto your mussel,`` he said to me, solicitously. And one drop is exactly what he squeezed, rerouting the second one onto the tablecloth. ``Just enough to refresh,`` he explained. I ate it, and he was absolutely correct: Two drops would have overwhelmed the poor bivalve, while one drop made it sing.

Sweetbreads arrived; we discussed their tenderness, the complexity of their sauce. Wine flowed, as did well-pondered pronouncements on the tartness of the raspberries in creme fraiche.

Ben leaned toward me, the slightest trace of creme on his mustache. ``Are you having a good time?`` he asked.

``I`m in heaven,`` I told him.

I suppose this was the correct answer, because I was invited to the next five dinners. The membership of the convivial core group rotated, depending on who was in town, who owed whom what favor, who had a special feeling for sashimi.

By the fourth dinner, it occurred to me that Ben was starting to like me in my eggplant dress even better than he liked braised eggplant salad. By the fifth dinner, I stopped feeling so intimidated.

``I made a duck in cherry sauce once,`` I announced to the table. ``But I couldn`t figure out how to carve it. I think you have to be a surgeon.``

``It`s a snap,`` Ben said. ``You just need the right knives. But of course, the love affair between duck and cherry has long been over.``

I knew that, naturally -- my duck attempt had been seven years ago -- but, ever polite, I did not defend myself. ``How would you prepare it?`` I asked.

``With juniper berries,`` he promptly said. Inspiration lit his face. ``I`ll cook it for you all this Saturday. My house at 8. All right?``

All right? To be personally cooked for by Mr. Benjamin Hamilton? Was this how Priscilla felt when her husband sang Love Me Tender to her in their bedroom?

I SPENT ONE hour and 20 dollars selecting the wine to bring to Ben`s duck dinner. I figured if it wasn`t appropriate, at least it wasn`t dirt cheap. When I arrived at Ben`s spotless and cleverly decorated apartment, he was holding court in his model kitchen, emperor of the butcher block. We guests sipped champagne from chilled flute-shaped glasses and exclaimed happily over the first course of angel-hair pasta in a red-pepper puree. As everyone applauded, Ben turned directly to me and asked, ``What do you think?``

I was mesmerized by his perfectly alphabetized spice rack. ``It`s delicious,`` I said.

He beamed. A different wine was served with each course, and mine wasn`t one of them. ``Let me show you how to carve the duck,`` he said, leading me to the huge cutting board. He stood behind me, struggling to rest his chin on my shoulder, and guided my hand. ``See how easy it is?`` he encouraged, squeezing my thickening waist.

I inhaled. ``The duck smells like gin.``

``That`s because gin is made with juniper berries,`` he said. ``Very aromatic. And lovely, like yourself.``

I had never been compared to a juniper berry before, but maybe it was harmless enough. On the other hand, maybe it wasn`t. The next morning at 11 o`clock, my doorbell rang. When I answered it, a delivery boy handed me a large bouquet of gorgeous red radicchio.

The card read:  To my lovely juniper berry. I would have grilled these if I could. Love, Ben.

Now what? Although I felt no guilt about eating dinners he wasn`t paying for anyway, this juniper berry business was something else. Was I leading him on?

I put my radicchio in water and pondered a romance with Benjamin Hamilton. If there were a chance for passion it would have to flower on a turf not entirely his own. How could I get to know the real Ben if he were constantly surrounded by gastronomical sycophants? Could Jerry Hall relate to Mick if they never left the rock concert? Perhaps an all-day outing in the countryside would help: no waiters, no convivial guests, just sunshine and fresh air.

I decided to invite Ben on such a trek when I called to thank him for the bouquet. He loved the idea but wondered aloud what food to bring.

``I`ll make some sandwiches,`` I said. ``And I`ll bring some trail mix.``

``Trail mix?`` he echoed, as if this described the animal leavings one encountered on trails. ``Perhaps I could bring a few items.``

``Fine,`` I said, cheerily.

I WAS THE picture of the well-adjusted outdoors woman by 10 the next morning. But where was Ben? The ham on rye was wrapped and ready to go. It was 11, then it was 12. The doorbell rang.

``Sorry,`` he said. ``I had trouble locating the right pate.``

``Pate? In the sun? It`ll melt.``

He insisted it wouldn`t, but it did, all three kinds. All afternoon Ben carried a baguette that was half his height; it turned to cement by the end of our walk.

``I made sandwiches,`` I reminded him, handing him one. He stared at it.

``I used Dijon mustard.``

He sniffed slightly. ``I`m not an outdoor type,`` he admitted as we sat down to admire the view. He put his hand on my knee.

``Would you like to help me review Robert`s Bistro tonight?``

I declined. I told him I`d like him to meet some of my friends, that Dennis and June were giving a barbecue and all we had to do was bring our own meat.

``I would love to meet your friends,`` he said. ``I`ll supply our main course.``

MY LOVE OF fine cuisine aside, to me a barbecue is still a barbecue -- a good, old-fashioned, all-American tradition whether you use mesquite or not. But it was not to be that simple.

As Dennis and June`s grill sizzled with beef patties and foot-long hot dogs, Ben carefully laid our meal alongside: marinated duck liver and rabbit parts brushed with mustard.

Everyone gathered around to look.

``Duck liver?`` said my friend Bill.

``A delicacy,`` Ben assured him.

``I didn`t even know those little quack-quacks had livers,`` guffawed Bill, grabbing another beer.

When it was ready, Ben made up two perfect plates garnished with the papaya and ginger salad he`d brought and insisted we eat at the end of the table, away from the group.

``Don`t you want to try June`s potato salad?`` I asked.

``Certainly not!`` he said. ``This meal cries for papaya.``

My guilt, as I ate, was twofold: Our elitist meal tasted absolutely terrific and I, too, had no craving for June`s potato salad. I was also guilty because throughout the repast, Ben stared into my eyes and told me I was his juniper berry.

``I don`t think I am,`` I told him.

He looked huffy. ``It`s because I`m short, isn`t it?``

No, it`s because you`re crazy, a voice inside me said. But instead I told him, ``If you really like me, then you should let me do something for you. Let`s spend a quiet evening together. At my house. I`ll do all the work this time.``

I knew that no matter how hard I labored over cookbooks and Cuisinarts, I could never come up with a meal that would meet his standards -- but, perversely enough, I did not feel like trying.

Cooking badly is surprisingly easy and takes hardly any time at all. By the time Ben arrived, the Cheese Whiz waited in delicate twirls upon the Ritz crackers, assembled on my coffee table alongside the bottle of Thunderbird.

``Ice?`` I asked, tossing some cubes into a Fred Flintstone glass I had left over from childhood.

I could see he didn`t know if I was serious, but I kept my countenance sincere.

``You don`t seem very hungry,`` I said. ``Wait till you try the salad. You won`t resist that.`` At the table I presented him with a perfect square of lime Jell-O filled with miniature marshmallows and pimento and topped with a dollop of Miracle Whip. ``Come on and eat,`` I said with a straight face. He reached for the Thunderbird instead.

But I would not be put off. ``Now for the piece de resistance.`` I`d read the recipe for Frito Pie in a women`s magazine. You open a giant bag of Fritos corn chips, dump in hot canned chili and grated cheese and onion, mix lightly and serve directly from the bag. I guess the theory is that the chips melt into a pleasantly pliable state.

It was almost painful to observe Ben`s face. I thought he might barf, then I thought he might cry. ``Ben, don`t you like it? Aren`t I your juniper berry?``

He threw down his blue paper napkin. ``You are not!`` he squeaked, rising and heading for the door. ``You are perfectly disgusting!`` he called over his shoulder. ``To think I grilled a duck`s liver for you!``

Goodbye, conviviality. Goodbye, free meals. I don`t even care, and that is the problem. Thanks to Ben, I, a woman once obsessed with every subtle variation of fine cuisine, now crave Kraft macaroni and cheese, and prefer M&Ms to Godiva. He out-obsessed me.

I wonder if Priscilla Presley lost her taste for rock; I wonder if she listened to opera in the privacy of her room.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Bring On The Drano--It's Time to Watch Chopped!

I'm pretty sure it's not having a kitchen that drives me to watch the Food Network Channel. Trust me, I know exactly how loathsome it is, and yet I’m always thrilled to see the show Chopped.  That's the one where three Foodie Fascists ruin the lives of Four Aspiring Chefs by making them cook (at speeds so dangerous they slice off their limbs, hence the name Chopped) a creative, tasty, and lovely-to-look-at three course meal.

The rub, however, is not having to do this in twelve seconds flat, but having to do it with Satanic ingredients. Said ingredients, which range from Drano to cockroach filets, await them in boxes packed by Pandora, a.k.a. "mystery baskets."

Mystery? Try Jung's collective unconscious. Better yet, try looking in on one of my more obnoxious recurring dreams, the one where I am suddenly called on to cook for a crowd and must dash to the butcher to buy lots of meat. And, upon unwrapping my white paper package in my own (and considerably dream-improved) home, discover to my Absolute Shock and Primordial Horror that I have somehow purchased four pounds of snakes. 

(Or would it be snake. But just never mind.)

How can this be?
my dream-brain is screaming. When did butchers start selling snake(s)? And how in the world did I come to buy it? And without even noticing that I had bought it? And how can I possibly serve such grotesquery (let alone cook it since I can't bear to touch it or even regard it) to the hordes of hungry, unwitting guests who are, even now, approaching my door?

I've had this dream maybe four or five times and, as much as I abhor it and fear it, I've always drawn comfort from waking up to the Certainty that it really was "only a dream" and could never happen in Actual Life.

And then it happened. Maybe not in Actual Life, but on TV--which I use as a slightly less harmful substitute--and it happened—where else?—on Satan’s own Chopped. Yes, one day those poor beleaguered contestants opened their dreadful mystery baskets to find (along with the usual anvil and jackfruit) a white paper package that some might describe as slightly archetypal. 

And when they opened this archetypal package they saw exactly what I'd seen in my dream: a pile of vile (albeit also dead, skinned, and, thank you Jesus!, decapitated) snake(s).

The female contestant almost passed out while the males grimaced and then trundled on. And where were they trundling to? Ah yes, to the special Chopped pantry and fridge from which they can draw less crazy fare (arugula, shallots, butter, crème freche) to augment (but not overwhelm!) the horrible things they must use in their meals.

Normally, this is when I love Chopped the most—that pivotal moment when the panicked contestants must decide if it’s better to bake than to broil, to fry than to poach, or just chop it all raw and call it Cobb salad. The tiny part of my mind that wasn’t quite screaming (due to still working on Chopped autopilot), wondered if one of the aspirants would be gathering limes for a mean Snake Ceviche, or beating up eggs for a grand Snake Soufflé.

Thankfully, this wondering lasted only two seconds before the screaming part of my mind--which knew I would die if I witnessed either preparation, or any Snake Preparation at all--made me grab the remote and turn Chopped to OFF.
After which I drew comfort from deciding I had dreamed the whole thing.  And with no one to verify that I hadn’t (I’d watched it with Boo, an unconscious cat),  I was able to think this was actually so.  Which was good, because it enabled me to: (1) not lose my mind;  (2) keep watching Chopped where, to my sadistic delight, contestants kept getting eliminated for allowing the blood from their wounds to seep onto their food.  

But then one day--and you knew this was coming--I saw a Chopped rerun, and there it all was.

Totally real and just as atrocious.  And this time I ran out of the house.